Lead times in ornamental plant breeding are high

You would think that breeders of ornamental plants would be fully aware of consumer trends. But it takes four years to grow a tulip bulb that can be forced and 25 years’ lead time to accumulate enough stock of a new tulip variety . New varieties of other flowers and plants can be created in less time. But adapting to actual consumer trends is virtually  impossible.

Tulip: improving resistance

With a 25-year lead time, breeding tulips to follow trends is useless. Fortunately, in a  normal assortment all colours are present. Breeders do focus on new shapes like double tulips and parrot tulips, but that will not change the assortment in one or two years. Breeders also focus on more resistant varieties since bulb growers have to fight plagues and diseases with a decreasing arsenal  of fertilizers and plant protectors.

Bringing back the lead time of new tulip varieties from 25 years to ten years wouldn’t change the fact that you cannot breed tulips on the basis of consumer trends. Tulip forcers have to add value to keep up with trends.

Perennials, limited possibilities

Depending on the variety, the lead time for new perennials lies between four and seven years for selecting and propagating. Only with very promising novelties can this time be shortened. So breeding for consumer trends is virtually impossible.

Still breeders are keen on trends. Sometimes novelties are kept in stock to be introduced later if they fit into a consumer trend (like vertical gardening). But since breeding is the art of throwing things away, there is only a limited number of varieties in stock.

Fortunately consumer trends in perennials develop slowly. So there is only a limited need to breed for trend changes.

Gerbera, the market decides

Although Gerbera only has a two year lead time, consumer trends aren’t unanimously leaning towards breeding novelties. Changes in preference develop organically , taking more time. Some years ago colours had to be hard; nowadays they are softer.

The major Gerbera breeders see to it that market demand is being reflected in breeding programmes. In the long run they see whether the demand is for single or double flowers or for flowers in special shapes (like spider Gerberas). On the other hand, there are fixed ratios between the various colours within the assortment. But you do need market knowledge to pick the right varieties out of thousands of seedlings.

Pot Chrysanthemums , trends out of your stock

A lead time of four to five years is too long to adapt to current trends. But in Pot Chrysanthemums you can stock good varieties and introduce them if they fit in with a trend. You shouldn’t introduce a red variety if everyone asks for white. So breeders introduce novelties they belief in and find good growers with whom to introduce them.

Breeding is about cultivation technology like reaction time, resistance and production. Sometimes breeders look for special varieties to be introduced on short notice but this is not standard procedure.

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